Payton Pritchard Reaping Reward Of Patience Off Celtics Bench

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Payton Pritchard was a key component of Wednesday night’s 122-119 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, which exemplified the major transition made in less than a calendar year’s time with the Boston Celtics.

Last season, the Celtics ran a roster featuring three guards — Marcus Smart, Derrick White and Malcolm Brogdon — who ranked ahead of Pritchard in Boston’s depth chart. Pritchard quickly became the odd man out, logging a career-low 13.4 minutes in 48 rummaged appearances. Seeing no way of escaping that divot, Pritchard requested the front office explore a trade before the deadline to help repair the undersized guards’ stock value before it became time to sign a new contract. That never happened, and instead, Pritchard stuck with the program and is profiting from that patience.

“Payton’s been great and I’m not surprised, to be honest,” Jaylen Brown said postgame. “Some guys just got a certain mentality that they carry themselves with and Payton is somebody you don’t worry about. Even in the lowest of times, he’s a hard worker and his mindset is phenomenal in terms of relentless, like never give up, warrior-type mentality. So you putting him out there I’m not surprised at anything you’re seeing now. It’s just, now the work is coming to fruition.”

Pritchard inked a four-year, $30 million contract seemingly out of nowhere in the offseason. The 26-year-old’s three-year NBA sample size only made the extension seem premature, but Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens elected to keep the homegrown role player on board. It made even more sense after the team departed from Smart and Brogdon to acquire Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday, which opened the window for Pritchard.

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When the Bucks rolled into TD Garden without a healthy and active Giannis Antetokounmpo, another opportunity arrived at Pritchard’s doorstep. Boston didn’t have Holiday available, giving Pritchard a boost in minutes played (31), and that only proved to benefit the rotational work done by Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla.

Pritchard finished with 19 points off the bench, shooting 7-of-11 from the field, including 5-of-8 from three with six rebounds and three assists. There wasn’t a time last season in which Pritchard was even half as confident as he was against Milwaukee, challenging larger-sized defenders off the dribble and even matching Patrick Beverley’s chirpy energy throughout the night.

The Celtics haven’t had to worry about reinforcing their depth with any major trade deadline additions, and that’s attributed to Pritchard’s consistency. He doesn’t do too much but does have the ability to score in double figures if needed. Pritchard’s averaged a career-high 8.4 points on 44.6% shooting, but the most notable part of his biggest NBA leap has been leading Boston with a 4.1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

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Boston’s trust in both granting Pritchard an awaited payday, plus a role in being the reserve unit’s floor general has paid its dividends.

“Last night, Payton Pritchard put the world on notice,” ex-Celtic Kendrick Perkins said Thursday on ESPN’s “NBA Today” program. “This is a guy that was out of the rotation last postseason and without him, they don’t win that basketball game last night. What he brought from a tenacity standpoint. Getting the crowd fired up along with getting buckets. This young man has been getting buckets since he’s been at Oregon. This is a bright spot for the Boston Celtics. No Jrue Holiday, all of a sudden this man comes in, has 19 points off the bench.”

Now a still-NBA-best 55-14, Pritchard has 13 regular season games left with the Celtics before getting a chance to flip the script on the biggest stage amid a long-awaited bid at Banner 18.

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